Why a People-of-Color Only Meditation Class?

Aug 24, 2021

by Prajna Choudhury

Buddhist Meditation practice can provide an important path of healing and awakening for all people, regardless of background. Unfortunately, the social context in the U.S. has historically made it less accessible for people of color.

Historically, Buddhist communities in the U.S. (outside of immigrant communities bringing Buddhism from the homeland) have been disproportionately white. Although well-intentioned, these communities have often unconsciously replicated the same racial dynamics and implicit biases that exist in the larger society. Additionally, Buddhist concepts and ideals have often been used to spiritually bypass/avoid acknowledging the social realities of race and other marginalizing categories. E.g., because we believe in concepts of egolessness and no separate self - that everyone is the same and there is no reality to social categories. There has also sometimes been a hubristic belief that “because our spiritual community is so loving and peaceful, there’s no reason anyone should not feel welcome here.”

The “ultimate reality” of oneness does not erase the social and cultural “transactional realities” that we all inhabit. Spirituality has sometimes been used as a cover to not look deeply into racial dynamics. Implicit bias permeates all people and communities, because systemic racism surrounds all of us. If race really did not matter, these spaces would demonstrate inclusiveness by having representative presence (not just token presence) of people of color, including within leadership.

Spiritual practice and meditative space touch very deep and vulnerable parts of us - which is why it can be so healing. In a world in which racism is the norm, many people of color walk around with a certain amount of walls and guarding as a coping and survival mechanism within such a context. When people have space to be free from the racialized dynamics of unconscious bias that they are exposed to daily, they can let their walls and guard down, and feel safer allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

Research has demonstrated the negative health impacts of the low level stress and trauma experienced by minorities from the daily large and small discriminations, negative attitudes, and micro-aggressions that permeate our culture. Implicit bias is so pervasive that people of color also have it to some degree - against their own groups and other people of color - though less so due to the fact that it does not benefit them and they are more likely to be able to see it. No space, thus, can ever be 100% free or safe - but we want to mitigate the factors that create stress so that deep practice becomes more possible.

This can be a painful thing for a person in the majority/dominant culture to hear, especially if one sees oneself and one’s community as being inclusive, kind, and non-discriminatory. It’s important to recognize that this is not personal. These attitudes and systems of racial inequality are rooted in histories of slavery, genocide, colonization, and exclusion and pervade all social institutions including education, media, business, politics - i.e., in the air and the water all around us. For people in the dominant culture, systemic racism can be like water to a fish - invisible because it is all around, and supports rather than threatens the well-being of the individual.

The question is not “do I have implicit bias?” - but to know and accept that by default I do, I must, as there is no way to avoid it in the world we live in, and to really examine and look deeply for this within ourselves and all the spaces and institutions we inhabit, whoever we are. Being an ally means being willing to accept that despite our best intentions, due to the historic and ongoing realities of racial bias and inequality in the U.S., not everyone will experience our presence as welcoming and safe, and that this is not at all personal. Acceptance of the pain of this reality, the holding and acknowledging of the suffering of this separation is a beginning practice that people in the dominant culture can do to start to heal this shared cultural legacy.

With the increasing stress faced by immigrants and people of color in the current political and cultural climate, we at Energy Matters feel it’s more important than ever to create safe spaces for people of color to be able to practice and heal. This also means making it financially feasible, acknowledging the realities of race-based economic inequalities. While there is a history of segregation borne of fear and ignorance - there is also separation that is about love, understanding, and creating spaces for healing. We thank our larger community for your support of this healing work.

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